The History of the Albums – n°287 [For this last episode of the year 1965, here is a complete rework of the review on Rubber Soul, Love]
Exhausted by the hellish pace of touring and their entire workload, Rubber Soul marks the time when the Beatles will leave their costumes (metaphorically), looking for a way out, to focus solely on the artistic. We are not talking about just any door, which opens and closes at will, the four boys were more precisely looking for a door to seal for good. Rubber Soul is probably one of the most significant turning points in their career in terms of context. First of all, Rubber Soul perfectly concludes the Folk era, which they started in early 1964 on A Hard Day's Night. On this point again, the Beatles did not simply go to the artistic culmination of their musical direction, they transcended and revolutionized it as only Bob Dylan could have done. Taking a casual approach to dressing on this mythical cover, the Beatles on Rubber Soul created this fracture, to devote themselves to art rather than fame. It all translates into their attitude and the choices they will make when creating Rubber Soul. This time, it was out of the question to make an album like a compilation without concept, the Beatles redoubled their efforts so that Rubber Soul would really become one of the first popular albums that only thinks about art. So for one of the first times, an album was thought of from beginning to end as a few things that form a united whole. This turning point is one of the most significant revolutions for a "popular" album, so much so that for many specialists and music connoisseurs, the real album format starts from that moment on. It is also for this reason that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, impressed by the concept and vision that Rubber Soul represented, decided to challenge himself to create Pet Sounds (1966). And so on and so forth. So we're going to rediscover Rubber Soul again, all its heritage and the history of its conception. On the road!
In August 1965 the Beatles released their fifth album Help, not content to simply meet the great expectations of the public. This success will lead them to their first ever grammy award nomination (album category) for a rock band. Although at this stage Beatlemania is over, the number of impressive records they hold and those they will continue to hold is countless. For example, on August 13, 1965, when the Beatles performed in front of more than 55,000 people at one of the most iconic concerts of all time in Shea Stadium. While this concert is bound to be a source of pride for the band and its production team, the Beatles, who were already tired of never getting along with themselves when they played during concerts, this gigantic event only confirmed that they had to move on to other things. It must be said, though, that just their introduction on stage is worthy of an American film blockbuster. It's not a metaphor, there was a helicopter and an armored van to drive them to the stage, not to mention the impressive number of police officers and the oversized security perimeter. During the rest of their American tour, the Beatles began to show their displeasure with Capitol, their American distributor, because the boys felt (quite rightly) that the label was doing anything with the American versions, distorting their art. In spite of this, the Beatles have the chance to meet their idol Elvis Presley and also to take advantage of the euphoria around their single Yesterday in America so that this cult song becomes the most broadcasted song on US radio during the next 8 years.
A contextual pause is necessary before advancing the analysis of the album's content, as there are some important elements to take into account in order to understand Rubber Soul's design work. First of all, it is imperative to understand that the Rubber Soul album was greatly influenced by their last American tour, when the Beatles fell in admiration of Motown Sound and American folklore (in the broadest sense). The Beatles were already well established as one of the most influential Folk Pop bands of the moment, but they sought to evolve their formula, moving closer to a more Folk Rock aesthetic. Then, there is this "pressure" factor that it is necessary to understand all its importance. The year 1965 is globally marked by folk and its various revolutions: Bob Dylan moved towards electrification and Blues, while groups/artists such as The Byrds, Paul Simon or Jackson C. Frank have given a higher dimension to folk. We can't count the number of cult folk songs released during this fabulous year. Moreover more globally, 1965 is the symbol of a fiercer competition. Knowing that the whole world was constantly turned towards the Beatles, wondering whether or not there was a possible disappointment, fortunately Lennon and McCartney always knew how to take advantage of this pressure. To tell the truth, during the early years of the Beatles, their manager Brian Epstein had always made sure to release 2 albums a year (spaced out of course), one of which would be reserved for December/Christmas in order to sell as well as possible. When the Beatles came back in October from their American tour, they were challenged to write enough songs to make the album they wanted, down to the smallest detail, the only constraint being to release it in the time frame they had planned. In spite of the tight timing, this is where we all recognize the genius of the Lennon/McCartney duo to write such exceptional songs.
Finalized after 1 month of work, Rubber Soul remains to this day the most homogeneous Beatles album of their discography. If you look at all the other albums, you will notice that they are all quite eclectic, which can be explained by their musical openings and multiple experimentations. This doesn't mean that Rubber Soul is not experimental enough, far from it, it's mostly that it's designed and constrained by a single backbone. Their common artistic ambitions show their maturity in all aspects, from writing to production. It's no secret, but when the Beatles began to make their studio nerds, to take an interest in mixing and various production techniques, they all acquired abilities superior to almost all popular artists/groups of the time. For example, guitars had to sound as piercing as possible on Norwegian Wood, and well when they reached the limit of what they could do, they found another parry to amplify this phenomenon. Yet this impressive homogeneity managed to be born despite the fact that at that time each member of the Beatles were developing their own styles. It is this phenomenon that explains why the next album Revolver will be so eclectic. In any case, despite their very strong different personalities, the Beatles show how their complementarity will remain one of the key factors in the Beatles' artistic success throughout their group career. The Beatles' search for artistic sophistication and independence, which was increasingly important to them, finally came to fruition on Rubber Soul, which will be the overall starting point for the rest of their upcoming albums.
Helped by their producer and arranger George Martin, the Beatles have again delivered a significant amount of experimentation on Rubber Soul. First of all, the Beatles have all acquired new instruments in order to broaden their sound, gain depth, richness and evolve their sound. One thinks in particular of the first use of the Fender Stratocaster guitar for Harrison or McCartney's new bass, a Rickenbacker 4001, but that's not all. The studio work, which includes all the innovative techniques used to modify the sound and add new effects, whether through mixing or distortion, remains one of the main elements that give this atypical and unusual Rubber Soul sound. If you add the fact that the band has progressed considerably in their writing, that they let themselves be pushed by individual experimentation and the set of fantastic ideas that have given richness to each song, you now have all the elements in your possession to understand the success of Rubber Soul. Believe me, there are so many tons of them that it makes you dizzy, you have to realize the absolute richness of the textures and the phenomenal work of the arrangements. Finally, when you analyze the whole content of Rubber Soul in depth, although the Folk Rock aesthetic remains the core on which the album is based, it is important to specify that it is the Beatles' inking point on the psychedelic and baroque terrain. There are even moments when he approaches Country music in a more down-to-earth way. However, what connects it all together in a coherent way is that each one brings out something similar to the roots (both in the physical sense of the term and metaphorically). It's as if each root has its own part of the story, coming together to form the tree.
To begin with, I would say that one of the most important songs on the album and in the history of music is the wonderful Norwegian Wood. Objectively I would even say that it is the most significant of Rubber Soul. There's already this fabulous writing and this introspective and explosive storytelling that emphasizes the constant evolution of the Beatles' writing, for Lennon's coup more precisely on this one. Accompanied by Harrison playing guitar, trying to better reproduce the sitar's sound, Norwegian Wood is one of the greatest artistic success of Raga Rock (western rock from Indian music). Although history has shown us that the Beatles were not the very first to do this, we think of the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Byrds or even Donovan, Norwegian Wood is surely the culmination of it all. Especially since we know that Lennon and Harrison literally fell in love with Indian music months before during the shooting of Help. So we can say that Raga Rock arrived as a common destiny between the different pioneers. This song became so cult that one of the legends of Indian music, Ravi Shankar, was given a huge virality, as if finally the Beatles did not just pay homage to their influences, they pushed it in the eyes of the general public. To this day, Norwegian Wood remains one of the pioneer songs of the psychedelic movement, but not that, since he influenced many artists and bands in another way through writing. If Norwegian Wood remains one of the most innovative songs of the album, Mitchelle, which has no reason to blush despite its semblance of simplicity, has become one of the greatest commercial and popular success of their stories. Of course, by tackling a few rhymes in French, which also remains an innovation, Michelle has become a considerable success in French-speaking countries, but beyond that Paul McCartney has again delivered a catchy and unstoppable ballad of which he alone really had the secret.
I don't know if the term "highlight" resonates as something really relevant here, given that the whole album is a breathtaking delight. However, if we really want to play with words, I would say that apart from the ones I mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are easily 5 other symbolic highlights. In order, first there is the introduction Drive My Car which is just perfect to get you into the Rubber Soul adventure. This one is a little bit of folk aesthetics without losing its soul, approaching a groovy Rhythm and Blues/Soul that finally anticipates the future directions that McCartney will take later when he will tackle the Blues Rock formulas. I don't think I'm wrong about the fact that the rhythm is not trivial, given their influences, but there is also a rather innovative Funk Pop side, since we know that Funk was born in 1965 thanks to James Brown or Jr. Walkers. To go further, Drive My Car anticipates with its similarities the song that Harrison will write the following year which is called Taxman as much in its groovy rhythmic as in its energy. Here again, McCartney's new bass has a lot to do with it. In contrast, Nowhere Man is a new demonstration by John Lennon, tackling for the first time a theme that has nothing to do with love. It shows the evolution of his writing, still very inspired by Bob Dylan, towards introspection and philosophy. What is really amazing is that the Beatles sang and wrote songs for 3 years always about love, girls and romance without ever stagnating. They always knew how to make their formulas evolve. In the beginning it was happy and danceable songs, and then there was a change with more melancholic and sadder lyrics. The ultimate example can be found in the album Rubber Soul with Girl, a hallucinating folk pop ballad that shows just how much complexity you can give to a love song that is normally supposed to be rather smooth and naive. And then there's this added and recorded breath, an innovative effect that accentuates precisely this feeling of pure melancholy. Like Nowhere Man, It's My Life is an autobiographical storytelling written by Lennon, whose name for this song is expressive enough. It's My Life is one of the beautiful things written by Lennon/McCartney as the Beatles. Everything is just perfect, there's this storytelling about the verses, the catchy choruses, the percussive bridges and above all a piano solo accelerated and played by George Martin, wishing to imitate a harpsichord, which adds that Baroque Pop side. And finally the last highlight of Rubber Soul is If I Needed Someone, a Pop Rock/Folk hybrid by Harrison that sounds like an ancestor of Power Pop. It is important to note that although Harrison's space was quite limited, his progression was very impressive and these songs had nothing to be ashamed of from the Lennon/McCartney duo.
In conclusion, Rubber Soul is not only a classic, it is one of the best albums of all time. The Beatles did a great job of making the change that will push them to do even better right after. Rubber Soul made others want to make an album as a concept and more like a compilation. Whether it's the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Velvet Underground and the examples are incalculable at such points it's huge, they all took Rubber Soul as a reference, both on the format, the concept, the artistic with the experimentations, the studio effects and production, in the writing and more globally in the way of making music. It's one of the most important musical revolution in our history and it's not just words, it's a fact that can't be denied. So yes, you're going to tell me that maybe if the Beatles hadn't done this, somebody probably would have done it differently in some way, but history will remember that Rubber Soul a was the trigger for all of this. And Rubber Soul is just one example of why The Beatles is probably the greatest band in the world. Let's not forget that when Rubber Soul was released in December 1965, the Beatles still offered us, in addition to the album 2 divine singles which are We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper (on the B side...). Imagine if these 2 songs were included in the album, it's just monstrous...